Tuesday, June 09, 2015

TOP STORY >> Ward prepares for growth with several projects

Leader staff writer

The Ward City Council on Monday set a special meeting for 5:30 p.m. Thursday to discuss wastewater treatment options.

Aldermen then heard the library may close and assured concerned residents a dilapidated trailer park would be cleaned up.

Mayor Art Brooke also proposed hiring a deputy operations maintenance officer as funds become available — either later this year or next year.


Bids for the wastewater treatment project came in at around $3.5 million for an Aero-Mod plant, $5.1 million for a Biorotor system and $4.7 million for an SDR plant.

The city plans to apply for financing through the USDA.

Upgrades are needed for Ward to stay within Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality permit limits and keep up with its growth. The ADEQ has not given a deadline, but — via litigation called a consent order — the city must be actively working to comply with permit requirements.

Ward has an older Aero-Mod plant, but Water Department Manager Mike Sipe told the aldermen in May that the company’s facilities had “changed dramatically from what they used to be.”

“From what I can see, this plant will work perfectly for what we need,” he said then. “It’s on maybe the same footprint, but it’s designed a lot different.”

The new Aero-Mod system would not require as much maintenance as the current plant does and it will be quieter, Sipe said previously.

The mayor told the council at its May meeting that the new plant would be twice as large as Ward’s current facility. It will be designed to last at least 15 years, based on the city’s projected growth, he noted then.

Brooke said at Monday’s meeting, “The Aero-Mod plant is a 1.5-million-gallon plant, which will give us long-term usage. The other plants are both 1 million, which are short-term plants for our city. We’ll make more decisions concerning that Thursday night.”


The mayor told aldermen that local legislators were working to keep the Ward Public Library open even though a closing date of Dec. 31 had been set.

One council member asked how the closing came about.

Brooke said, “Because of funds and usage, they’ve closed three libraries…The governor cut the funding this year.”

The mayor said he had asked for a breakdown of expenses and a scale showing how the usage compares to that of other cities based on population.

Brooke said he hadn’t received any of that information, but had been told it costs $62,000 a year to run the facility with $17,000 of that coming from the city’s budget.

Regional Director Deborah Moore, with the Lonoke/Prairie County Regional Library System, has agreed to try working something out with the system’s board, the mayor noted.

He said some options being considered are having the library open just three or four days a week, manning it with a part-time staff and supplementing it to a greater extent with the city’s budget.

Brooke was asked if Ward has a representative on the system’s board. He said the city did not and that point would be brought up in negotiations to keep the library open. “I think that what’s fair is fair. I think we need a representative, and (Moore) said she would look into that.”


The mayor’s proposal to add a new position will also be debated at Thursday’s meeting.

Brooke said he or she would work under his direction and make a $40,000 to $50,000 salary based on qualifications.

“The auditors have told us repeatedly for 17 years we don’t have enough people. This is one of the solutions to make things work better,” the mayor noted.

Although the job description isn’t locked in, the mayor said, the new hire could help schedule work orders, manage animal control, work on supply inventory, be over parks and recreation and conduct inspections for the street and fire departments.

That person could also be the first responder to a natural disaster, perform information technology functions and handle the city’s social media.

Alderman Jeff Shaver asked, “This is one man’s job?” The mayor responded, “Well, yeah. I’m doing it now, why can’t one other person help me do it?”

Alderman Lee Schoonover asked how many positions the city had now. Operations Manager Deborah Staley said, “We pay 40 positions each month, each payday.”


Tommy Sutton, at the mayor’s request, submitted a letter to the council. Sutton and his brother, Greg Sutton, own what used to be Norene Phillips’ trailer park between Hwys. 319 and 367, inside Ward city limits.

Phillips passed away a few years ago, Brooke said.

In the letter, Tommy Sutton states that he lives out of area and doesn’t visit often but had recently learned of criminal activity — theft, vandalism and dumping — taking place there.

He also wrote that the overgrown grass would be cut and unsecured trailers would be secured. “You will see evidence of this by your next meeting,” the letter states.

Only family members and one 85-year-old live in the park. None of them were involved in the crime occurring there, according to Sutton.

The mayor said it would be acceptable for the 85-year-old’s home to be left out of the trailer removals because moving would be difficult for the elderly woman and her trailer is in good shape. Neighbors present at the meeting agreed with that assessment of her home’s condition.

Tommy Sutton and his brother are “considering everything from selling to rezoning” and “will be working close with the city,” according to the letter.

Brooke told the council, “I think that they are willing to be a player, to get it cleaned up...This has become very much of a nuisance to us, and to the people out there in the area.”

The owners do want some time, but how much would be up to the aldermen, Brooke said. If no progress is made within the to-be-set timeline, the city will begin legal action, he noted.

The mayor added that laws in place to help cities deal with issues like this didn’t exist the last time Ward wanted to clean up the property.

One of about a dozen neighbors who showed up to hear his update about the situation asked numerous times that the cleanup begin with removing a commode in a front yard at the park.

The same woman said, “It’s a sad situation when you have a problem, then have to call the police and they say ‘oh you’re out here in the cesspool of Lonoke County.’”

The issue was tabled until the council’s next meeting, to which both owners will be invited.

Brooke also announced that Old Austin Road is being paved from Austin city limits to Hwy. 38 with state turnback money. The state Highway Department is doing that and resurfacing several city streets, he said.